Dueling for Dual-Stream Recycling

 

Since the US election I have avoided reading opinion pieces until I stumbled upon one recently posted online through Waste Dive regarding the defense of dual stream recycling programs.

The author is Ted Onufrak, Executive Director of Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority in Bellefonte, PA who has over 25 years of experience in the solid waste and recycling industry.  His argument is well founded and one that is commonly stated by other communities who have implemented dual-stream recycling programs.

The push for communities to switch to “single stream” or cart based recycling programs is overwhelmingly apparent in North America, and specifically in the US.  Why is this happening?

A few factors influence this switch in household and curbside collection: the need to collect more material from residents, to reduce collection worker injury and to increase recycling program participation.

While these are important factors for program success, switching to single stream or cart based recycling collection has been coined as the new and improved recycling program.  I grew up in a community where dual stream recycling was the norm and so I was a bit skeptical of this idea for collection “you just throw it all in one big giant container?”

Now that I have been a part of this industry for several years I am still slightly skeptical of the single stream argument, mainly due to who seems to be the main proponent of the switch to cart based service and why there is such a need to switch to single stream cart based service.

WHO SPONSORS SINGLE STREAM?

A lot of the sponsorship and grants that are helping to fund the switch to these mixed recycling programs are private industry partners.  Whether it be their environmental responsibility program, product stewardship, worker injury or some other underlying motivator it is interesting to see industry organizations advocate so heavily for single stream and cart based collection.

Yes, you may collect more materials but it is proven that it also greatly increases the contamination rate of the recyclables being collected.  The single stream debate is that the increase in collected materials and reduction in worker injury claims financially outweighs the increase in contamination and subsequent operating costs.

For arguments sake say that this is true, what would the carbon footprint be when processing dual stream recyclables compared to single stream recyclables?  If single stream cart based recycling programs have shown sometimes double the contamination rates of dual stream recycling programs that would directly result in an increase in operating costs associated with processing single stream material.

It would be interesting to see an across-the-board comparison of both collection programs to analyze all aspects of collection and processing, apples to apples.

WHAT PROVOKES THE NEED TO SWITCH?

While you may think that you are gaining more program participation because residents can put all their recyclables in one large cart without the need to sort, you are losing a lot of the outreach that comes with curbside recycle bin collection (or manual collection) and increasing the need to “wishcycle” items.

There is a lot of outreach and education that comes from not collecting a resident’s recyclables on collection day and instead leaving a tailored message educating them on what item did not belong in their bin, and even why it doesn’t belong there.

These are teachable moments that allow for detailed information to be conveyed to residents and also increases the thought process associated with recycling.  While recycling should be instinctual by now it should also not be a mindless reflex with no thought process behind it.

Dual stream or bin collection programs also educate the collection worker on what is and is not recyclable and prevents contamination from entering the processing facility in the first place.  It also creates a better market for the materials that are collected which offers municipalities a better rate for their recyclables and possibly even more end markets.

If public education and outreach are the most valuable factors to program success then in my humble opinion, dual stream recycling in bins offers more opportunity to reach out and educate the public on how to recycle correctly.

That being said, every community is different from their collection capabilities to their processing capabilities.

This is not a statement of “dual-stream or no stream at all” it is simply a recommendation to consider the benefits of a dual stream recycling program before considering it as the old way we used to collect recyclables.

It’s the most wasteful time of the year – How can you reduce your waste over the holiday?

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According to the EPA, during the holiday season the average household waste increases by 25% (https://www3.epa.gov/region9/waste/recycling/).  The major increase in waste comes from food, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons.  This increase equates to approximately 25 million extra tons of garbage.

Surely we all notice the excess amounts of “stuff” that accumulates over the holidays but have we ever taken steps to prevent it?  I am as guilty as the next person who gets caught up in the holiday spirit with endless shopping trips, fancy wrapping paper and bulk boxes of expensive Christmas cards. I wanted this year to be different so in an attempt to become more conscious of our Earth’s resources and our environment I went on a research mission for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle my waste this Christmas.  We can all make the extra effort this year and pick one (or some) of the  ideas below to reduce, reuse or recycle more this holiday season.

STEP 1: REDUCE

The first and most important R is to reduce waste whenever and wherever possible. Below are some tips on where and how you can reduce waste this season:

  • Reduce shopping bags by shopping with reusable bags;
  • Reduce packaging by choosing store bought gifts with the least amount of packaging;
  • Make your own gifts (DIY crafts, photos or baked goods);
  • Give a gift certificate, event ticket or a membership to a museum, gym or park;
  • Wrap several gifts together;
  • Do away with the ribbons and bows;
  • Plan your meals in advance so you do not overcook and,
  • Ask your guests to bring a reusable container so they can take home left overs and reduce the amount of leftover turkey or mashed potatoes your family may be stuck eating!

STEP 2: REUSE

Reuse may seem like the most difficult R to abide by this season.  How could you gift a “reuse” item to someone or how could you possibly find a new use  for your Christmas tree or ornaments? I am as skeptical as the next person but I did find some creative tips on reuse during the holidays:

  • Reuse packaging, gift bags or wrapping from previous years;
  • Re-purpose newspapers, magazines, posters, maps or a scarf to wrap gifts. You could also use reusable cloth bags to wrap gifts;
  • Use an artificial Christmas tree or buy a small potted tree that you can plant once the season is over;
  • Save broken Christmas ornaments and used wrapping paper for crafts;
  • Cut up old Christmas cards and use them as name tags on gifts for the next year;
  • Resist the urge to use disposable cutlery and dishes when hosting a festive meal and,
  • Use cloth napkins, dishes and cutlery that can be washed and reused.

STEP 3: RECYCLE

Easily the most widely used and most recognizable R of the threesome. However, “recycle” is at bottom of the list for a reason – it is the last ditch effort before the dreaded disposal!  The options for recycle and the items that can be recycled vary from region to region so below are some ideas on how to incorporate more recycling this holiday season:

  • Whenever possible purchase gifts from recycled materials. This will reduce the amount of resources used to make the gift and continue to create a market for recycled materials;
  • Use materials that are recyclable to wrap and package gifts;
  • Give old toys or clothing a new life by donating to a charitable organization;
  • Compost or mulch your Christmas tree, boughs and wreathes.  These decorative pieces can restore nutrients to soils, prevent moisture loss and limit the growth of weeds in your garden;
  • Make sure your friends and family can recycle when they attend your holiday festivities.  Create easy recycling stations with a garbage, recycling bin and compost bin placed beside each other for easy sorting.

Committing to even one of these changes over your holiday season can help save valuable resources, money and easily make your holiday season more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Winter is coming! Time to start backyard composting.

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Right now you are probably thinking about packing away the patio furniture or servicing your snow blower in preparation for the onset of winter.  You’re probably not thinking of your garden or starting a backyard compost pile, right?

Believe it or not fall is the ideal time to start your backyard compost pile.

Don’t believe me? Think of what is needed to create the perfect compost: the proper mix of green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon rich) material.  The fall season is where these two components are highly accessible.  Fresh vegetables and fruits are still available and the leaves on the trees are starting to turn. You have everything you need to start the perfect compost pile and you have all winter for the materials to decompose. Yes, that is correct – composting will continue even throughout the winter months!

So you’ve decided to start backyard composting, now what? Now that you have the materials for your compost pile you just need to pick your compost bin and location.

Everyone has their own idea of what the perfect compost bin design is but the truth is it depends on the person.  It could be as simple as a wood framed open pile to a fancy metal tumbler purchased from a hardware store.  The bin you choose is up to you but make sure it allows for aeration and turning.

Oxygen is required in the compost pile to ensure you maintain the beneficial microorganisms.  Turning the pile every week or so helps to assist in the composting process and ensures oxygen can reach most of the materials in the pile.

Location is just as important as the material and the hardware.  Pick a spot that is level, well drained, receives shade and sun and is not too far from your home.   Just imagine yourself taking a container of fresh green materials (melon rinds, coffee grinds, apple cores, etc) in various weather conditions like rain and snow from your house out to your compost pile. How likely will you be to add materials to your compost pile if you have to make that journey once a week and sometimes through mud or snow? If you pick a spot too far from your house you will be less likely to add materials and turn your compost pile on a regular basis given the overall inconvenience of its location on your property.

To ensure you are adding materials regularly  dedicate a container in your kitchen to collecting vegetable peels, rotten fruits, coffee grinds and tea bags.  You could even keep a small collection of dry leaves in a container in your shed or garage so you can add dry material to your compost in any season.  Check out our kitchen food waste collection bin and utility bin to help with collection and storage.

There are plenty of resources available online for starting, maintaining and troubleshooting your backyard compost pile.  Starting a backyard compost pile is a great way to reduce your waste and to create something beneficial for your gardens.